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Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Who left this thing on?

Going into 2020, I set myself a lower goal for short stories than before, because I suspected the election might cut into my creative energy. (Hah, what an innocent lamb I was.) But when I decided to participate in the Clarion West write-a-thon — you can still sponsor me, by the way! — I included among my goals “finish two short stories,” because I didn’t want to lose momentum on those entirely. I chose my phrasing on purpose: finish two short stories. I had one partially written, and another which in theory is done, but the first draft is so meh that it needs a white-page rewrite anyway.

Right now I’ve got three finished stories, none of which are those two. Also a semi-outline for a fourth, and a nascent concept for a fifth.

It feels like the valve labeled “Short Fiction” has somehow gotten jammed in the “open” position. It started in early June, when I went to add an idea to my file of short story concepts, and my eye happened to fall on one I’d completely forgotten about. A quick dash of research later, I had a story.

Then I turned my attention to an idea that’s been in my head for over a decade, ever since I ran the Changeling game that gave rise to the Onyx Court novels. The big stumbling block on it — as with many of my short story ideas these days, honestly — was the research; I needed to find a suitable book or two to read before I could write it. But I figured, hey, I might as well look for such a book, right? Well, I found something . . . and then I read it . . .

. . . and I was halfway through a draft when a different short story idea mugged me out of nowhere, in response to an anthology call. And let me be clear: that isn’t how this usually works. I’ve written to themes when actively solicited for an anthology, but my brain is not very good at coughing up themed ideas the rest of the time; it would rather work on the two dozen ideas already in existence. In this case, though, the theme touches on a different bit from that Changeling game — something I never brought up in the Onyx Court books, but which I’d always figured was true somewhere off in the background.

Roughly twenty-four hours after reading that anthology call, I had a draft. A couple of days after that, I went back and finished the other story I’d been working on.

Oh, and that “semi-outline” for a fourth story is entirely the product of me being in the shower and then suddenly BOOM, a three-word elevator pitch grew into scenes and a conflict and I could pretty much write this one as soon as I nail down the specifics.

So yeah. I now have “999 Swords,” “Oak Apple Night,” and “This Living Hand.” (Internet cookies to anybody who can identify what those titles refer to!) I have written my first new Onyx Court fiction since “To Rise No More” in 2013, and I’ve ordered a book that might help me nudge another one toward the finish line. Not to mention that I still have those two things that are what I expected to be working on during the write-a-thon, which I can probably finish this month.

I’m not sure what’s happened, but I like it.

Down a Street That Wasn’t There . . .

cover art for DOWN A STREET THAT WASN'T THERE by Marie Brennan

Hard on the heels of announcing the (extremely belated) pre-order window, I now announce the publication of Down a Street That Wasn’t There! Another novella-sized collection of my short fiction (joining the ranks of Ars Historica, Maps to Nowhere, and The Nine Lands), this one collects my urban fantasy to date. You can buy it from Book View Cafe (the publisher), Barnes and Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, or Amazon US or UK.

But I want to reiterate what I said before: if you have not yet donated to some organization fighting for racial justice and an end to the rampant police brutality in the United States (or elsewhere), then please take the money you would have spent on this book — or more! — and do that first. I don’t want to think anybody bought my collection instead of doing that. Both is fine! Both is excellent! But if your finances are tight enough that it’s a choice between one or the other, pick that one. It matters far more.

Does it still count as “pre”-ordering?

I’ve set this up very much at the last minute — as in, it’s coming out Tuesday. But I’m putting out a new short story collection! Down a Street That Wasn’t There pulls together my urban fantasy to date — seven stories set in the real world or something very close to it.

Here’s the thing, though. I scheduled this before the most recent round of inexcusable police brutality took over the news (where it well deserves to be), and . . . I feel weird saying “hey, buy a thing from me!” when there are much more urgent needs out there. So let me say this: if you have already donated to a bail fund or Black Lives Matter or the ACLU or some other organization fighting for badly-needed justice, or if you’ve made purchases to support some local Black-owned businesses, and you want to pick up this collection, then thank you. But if you haven’t, I ask you to instead spend that money where it will do more good. I could say “all proceeds for now will go to X charity,” and there’s a sense in which that will be true, because my household’s been making a lot of donations lately and isn’t done yet. There are two reasons I’m not framing it in those terms, though. The first is that I don’t want to feel like I’m using a good cause to promote my book — it should be the other way around. And the second is that I think it’s more valuable to encourage lots of people to interface with these organizations, to take action directly rather than indirectly (i.e. through me).

So: please put the needs of the vulnerable ahead of this book. I’m still putting it out because I don’t want to leave Book View Cafe with a hole in its publishing schedule and because even when the world is on fire, we still need stories and diversions and entertainment; in some ways we need them even more badly in such times. But I really mean it. Donate if you can.

And if you’ve already done that, well, I have a new short story collection for you!


Step beyond the ordinary . . .

Beneath the surface of our reality lies a world of magic and danger — a world where buildings have guardian spirits, shapeshifting coyotes prey on the hopeful and the desperate, and ancient traditions prepare for an apocalyptic future. These seven urban fantasy tales from award-winning author Marie Brennan paint the everyday with a layer of wonder, inviting you to imagine what could lie just around the corner.

cover art for DOWN A STREET THAT WASN'T THERE by Marie Brennan

And now for something completely different

I could talk about how the Bay Area is officially going under a “shelter in place” order for the next three weeks, and the surreal sight of my local grocery store completely denuded of flour, rice, chicken, and other staples . . . but you know what? My brain is desperate for other material right now.

So! Please recommend to me what you consider to be the best recorded performances of each of Shakespeare’s plays. I do mean each: not just the ones that have been done a bunch of times, like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, but anything for which Shakespeare’s authorship is moderately certain. Cymbeline? The Winter’s Tale? Movies, TV miniseries, filmed stage performances, any of those are fine, but not adaptations that use the plot without the script (e.g. 10 Things I Hate About You).

This question brought to you by me thinking, hmmmm, I’ve written some Shakespeare fanfic for Yuletide — I wonder if I could sell some short stories in that vein? I need grist for the mill, basically.

(And feel free to pass the link to this post along to anybody who might have recommendations.)

New story at Daily Science Fiction!

Half an hour before the end of 2019, I got an email notifying me that the magazine Daily Science Fiction wanted to buy my flash story “Cruel Sisters” (available to read for free at that link) — a story which may be glossed as “that continuity error had bugged me for years, thanks a lot, Loreena McKennitt.” Except it’s actual thanks now rather than sarcastic, because in the end I got a story and a sale out of it.

A different short fiction resolution

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times here, in both 2018 and 2019 I set myself the goal of writing six short stories. I came up one short in 2018, and then in 2019 succeeded despite making a mess of that count with flash fiction and a novelette that wasn’t intended for the submission treadmill and etc. etc. etc.

I’ve decided to change my goal for 2020.

My reasons are threefold: First, I have quite a lot of novel work pending for this year, which is going to eat a fair bit of my time and energy. Second, I rather expect politics will send me into at least a few mental tailspins before we ring in 2021, and allowing some slack for that seems like a good idea. And third, the best way to head my overachiever tendencies off at the pass before they can tell me I Have to Write Even More Than Last Year is to deliberately aim lower.

So my goal for 2020 is actually just three stories — but three specific(-ish) stories. See, a few years back I sorted my short fiction into groupings based on subgenre, and discovered that basically every grouping was either in the range of 30-40K words, or could reach that easily if I got off my duff and wrote some of the ideas that had been hanging around unwritten for years. Three of those — Maps to Nowhere for secondary-world fantasy, Ars Historica for historical fantasy, and The Nine Lands for stories in that setting — are out now. A fourth, the urban fantasy collection, is on the road to publication later this year. (Monstrous Beauty and Never After are a different ballgame, being micro-collections rather than novella-sized.)

That leaves me with three within striking distance of completion: one for folksong retellings, one for stories inspired by other kinds of folklore and mythology, and (in a surprise speed-run) another secondary-world collection, because I’ve accumulated nearly enough since publishing Maps to Nowhere in 2017 to hit that topic again. All of these are still pending the sale of multiple stories — with the exception of Never After, which was a special case, I’m only collecting reprints — but more to the point, they also each need me to write one more story for them to be complete.

Ergo, that’s what I’m going to focus on this year. My goal is not merely to write three stories, but to write stories that fit the following parameters:

1) One story based on a folksong. I have a song in mind; I just need my subconscious to cough up some interesting answers to the questions the song leaves me with. Technically I only need this to be 620 words long to get myself across the self-imposed 30K bottom limit, but I’d like a full-length story, since there are already two flash pieces in here (and those are why, despite writing two new pieces, this collection still isn’t complete). Given the song in question, though, and what I feel like the story it produces might be, I don’t think that will be a problem.

2) One based on Near Eastern mythology. This technically isn’t necessary, since the collection’s currently at 33K. But the story I unexpectedly wrote before Christmas left me in a situation where the regional groupings within the collection have four stories each, with the exception of the Near Eastern one, which has only three. So dangit, I want one more. Not sure what, though — so hey, if there are any Near Eastern myths or bits of folklore you think are crying out for poking at in fiction, feel free to suggest them in the comments!

3) One secondary-world. This is wide open; it could be anything, as long as it’s at least 3700 words long. (Which usually isn’t a problem for anything that requires me to do worldbuilding.) I have an idea I originally thought might go here, but further thought made it apparent to me that it’s going to be at least a novelette and maybe a novella, so . . . probably not? Because my imagination is fun of playing annoying and self-inflicted games, my inclination is to not have the additional story be a repeat in any of the settings currently slated for the collection, even though I have multiple ideas in that direction. I might take a crack at the story that’s the sequel to “Love, Cayce,” but that presumes I can figure out a way to write it without the sequel-ness being an obvious barrier to entry. But on my way to bed last night I realized I could take the opening incident of a potential future novel that currently has nothing but an opening incident and turn that into a stand-alone story — what I think of as a “proof of concept” story, poking at a setting and a character in short form before attempting a novel — so despite being a brand-new concept, right now that’s leading the pack.

Those are my goal. Let’s see if I can make ’em happen.


Well, would you look at that.

A bit of random curiosity led me to look something up on Wikipedia. A detail in the article led me to a bit of mythology I hadn’t heard about before (or had forgotten if I had). Something like two weeks later — certainly not more than that — I have a short story.

Dear brain: you can stop wibbling over metrics now. In this calendar year you have written three pieces of flash fiction, one novelette that’s going into a fixup novel rather than making the submissions rounds, and SIX ACTUAL SHORT STORIES. Like you set out to do.

As I’ve said before, there are stupid games I can play around what counts and what doesn’t. And I stand by what I said before, which is that I didn’t have to write another longer-than-flash piece this year in order to feel like I’d accomplished something. On the other hand, there was no good reason not to write the story, once I had the idea for it. Except for the bit where I fell down a rabbit hole of reading up on early bronze-working and watching Youtube videos of people making weapons and armor, because I’m not quite incapable of writing something that doesn’t require research, but I come damn close.

The only real problem is, now I’ve messed up the balance for a future short story collection I want to do. The only way out of that trap is to write another story based on some kind of Near Eastern mythology.

But that, I can do in 2020.

Metrics continue to go “squish”

Back in September I wrote about the squishy metrics of my goal to write six short stories this year. You can read the details there, but the long and short of it is that last week I finished another story . . . ish. See, it’s flash. Again. Less than a thousand words long. Which, although it counts as A Thing I Can Submit, doesn’t quiiiiiiiite convince my brain I’ve hit the target.

Which is why I’ve decided that a different metric should apply here. See, in 2018 I set out to write six short stories, and managed five. In 2019 I set out to write six short stories, and managed five, plus a novelette that’s going into Driftwood rather than being submitted, plus three pieces of flash fiction. Whether that counts as “six short stories” or not is, by official decree, less relevant than the fact that I wrote more than I did the year before.

Of course, that’s dangerous in its own way. It risks engaging the gear in my brain that says so you should do even more in 2020! And it’s possible for me to play pernicious games around wordcount, fretting that writing more individual stories doesn’t count if their total length doesn’t add up to more than the previous year. Writers have a strong tendency toward neuroticism, and I’m no exception; I can always find a way to tell myself I ought to be achieving more.

So I’m also trying to shift my attention to something else more useful: my list of unwritten story ideas. That “six story” goal is the reason I prodded myself to write the most recent piece (and then sort of missed because it wound up only 640 words long), but there’s another reason as well, and that’s my short story collections. With the exception of Never After (which is a special case), I’m only collecting previously published stories, not new work. I (for slightly absurd reasons) wanted one more story based on some kind of Near Eastern source to go into an upcoming collection of works inspired by folklore and mythology, and knew I would feel much more satisfied if I managed to get that done this year. As of this most recent flash piece, I can check off that box, and move that collection one step closer to happening.

And that’s why I’m already casting speculative glances in the direction of another story concept. Writing that one (and selling it, of course) would complete the lineup for another collection — the last of the original set I had planned when I first started putting these together. So that’s high on my hit-list for 2020. In theory I could do it before the end of this year (and thus realio trulio achieve the goal of six short stories, no waffling about flash fiction required) . . . but I don’t think that’s likely to happen. It needs more composting first.

Goal for 2020: six short stories. Just like it was for 2019 and 2018. In the end, the final number doesn’t really matter, so long as setting that goal fulfills its real purpose, which is getting me to write more short fiction again.

My publications in 2019

For those of you who nominate for awards (or just want a reminder of what I’ve been up to lately), herewith my publications in 2019!

Turning Darkness Into Light

The Eternal Knot

“La Molejera”, Cirsova Magazine

Short stories
“Vīs Dēlendī,” Uncanny Magazine
“On the Impurity of Dragon-kind,” Uncanny Magazine
“This Is How,” Strange Horizons
“Sankalpa,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies

. . . it turns out that writing more short fiction leads to selling more short fiction. Who knew?

New Worlds, Year Two

I also published two collections, one of which is theoretically eligible for awards, as all but one piece in it is original? But since the total word count of Never After is small enough to fit into the short story category, I suspect that if there are any lower limits on the length of collections for award purposes, it’s fallen well beneath them. And The Nine Lands is all reprints.

(In theory my Legend of the Five Rings short stories are also eligible. But given that they’re part of a larger ongoing story written by many hands, and they’re only published through the game’s website, I figure there’s not much point in listing them. You’re either following the L5R story or not; nobody’s going to get much by dipping in and only reading the bits I’ve done.)

BTW, my impression is that the addition of Turning Darkness Into Light and “On the Impurity of Dragon-kind” is not enough to re-qualify the Memoirs of Lady Trent for the Best Series Hugo. (Someone brought that up at my Borderlands reading.) If I’m wrong about that, though, do let me know!

Nine Lands + photo sale!

My latest short story collection, The Nine Lands, is out now! You can get it from Book View Cafe, Barnes and Noble (Nook), Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, and Amazon US or UK. This is my third short story collection, after Ars Historica and Maps to Nowhere, plus the mini-collections Monstrous Beauty and Never After. Bit by bit, I’m getting my short fiction back out there!

Also, don’t forget that I’m currently running a holiday photo sale! Of course anything in my galleries is available, but this set of photos are already printed and ready to ship, no lead time necessary (which becomes an issue around the holidays). Prices range from $50-$100; if you’re interested, get in touch!